Don Brash: From political punching bag to reborn leader

17:00, Apr 28 2011

The last time Don Brash spoke in Parliament, he railed against "separate racially based electoral rolls".

He pilloried "the politics of envy", and he criticised record-high spending on healthcare that did not prevent long waiting lists.

He left Parliament on December 12, 2006, a wounded political punching bag.

In five years at Parliament, he had been celebrated, denigrated and mocked in almost equal measures.

In his new life as the leader of the ACT party, he will be expecting more of the same.

Dr Brash is best known to the country for his three years in charge of the National Party, during which he came close to becoming prime minister in 2005.


His first crack at Parliament was in a 1980 by-election when he was beaten by Social Credit candidate Garry Knapp for the East Coast Bays seat. He spent 15 years as Reserve Bank governor before being vaulted in to a plum spot on National's list for the 2002 election.

He won the National leadership from Bill English in a very public challenge in October 2003. "I don't want us to be afraid of the electorate by watering down our message," Dr Brash declared after the caucus vote.

True to his word, Dr Brash unleashed a lightning-rod speech on "Maori racial separatism" at the Orewa Rotary Club in January the following year.

The speech attracted massive attention and Dr Brash was credited with sparking a revival in National's poll ratings.

It made him deeply unpopular with Maoridom, however. On a visit to Waitangi the next month, he was charged at by Maori protesters and pelted with mud.

Weeks later, Dr Brash climbed deeper into the political bear-pit, slinging mud of his own at then prime minister Helen Clark for her "indifference to the institution of marriage". It did not take long for allegations of hypocrisy to emerge, however, as an extra-marital affair Dr Brash had engaged in became public.

"I did have an affair. That's absolutely correct and I acknowledge that," Dr Brash said in a radio interview. "It's not something I'm proud of."

Allegations of another affair would emerge in September 2006, with suggestions of a relationship with businesswoman Diane Foreman contributing to the breakdown of his second marriage to Je Lan Brash.

Ms Foreman was involved in some of the hundreds of emails relating to Dr Brash that began leaking to the media in August 2005. Ms Foreman, the emails showed, was among Right-wing and business identities who had helped Dr Brash achieve his leadership of the National Party.

In the 2005 election campaign, allegations of a close relationship between National and the Exclusive Brethren sect emerged.

"I've met with Brethren, with Catholics, with Presbyterians, Methodists, agnostics, atheists, Muslims, the whole lot. There's nothing funny about it," was Dr Brash's defence.

But soon after he led National to a narrow defeat at the 2005 election, it became known that Nicky Hager's book Hollow Men would blow open evidence of deeper connections with the Exclusive Brethren than Dr Brash had confessed to.

By November 2006, the polls indicated there was more support among National Party voters for John Key as leader, and Dr Brash bowed out.

The Dominion Post